Monday, August 26, 2019

Top 5 interesting things to do in La Mesa Ecopark

A tribute

The La Mesa Ecopark in Fairview, Quezon City is a favorite weekend destination for many people living in the crowded city. It is perhaps one of the last remaining forested areas in Metro Manila and thankfully, it is still free of urban sprawl.

It was not always that way. Many years ago, the was not open to the public. It was only opened in 2004 after a rehabilitation effort was undertaken.

The untimely passing of Ms. Gina Lopez, a known environmental advocate and long-time chairperson of the ABS-CBN Foundation which directly maintains the La Mesa Ecopark, came as a shock to many. Ms. Lopez led the rehabilitation of the La Mesa Ecopark together with a few other stakeholders. Here's hoping that what she started will continue, and that the La Mesa Ecopark remain unspoiled for all of us to enjoy.

I thought of writing this piece as a simple personal tribute to the efforts of Ms. Lopez and  to share some of the things that I have enjoyed doing at the ecopark through the years.

Things to do at the ecopark

Here's my Top 5 list of interesting things to do at the ecopark

1) Go on a picnic. The picnic ground at the La Mesa Ecopark are perfect for both small and large groups. Some of the picnic tables are free to use, while some, such as the large gazebos and events places, can be rented.

2) Enjoy the gardens. There are a lot of flowers, plants, and of course trees in the park. One can visit the gardens near the stairway going up to a view of the La Mesa dam. Most of the time, many flowers are in bloom.

3) Go jogging. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., joggers can go to La Mesa Ecopark and pay a minimal fee. The park officially opens at 8 a.m. so this is a perfect window for those who may want to go jogging within the park grounds before the crowd of park visitors come in.

4) Go swimming. The La Mesa Ecopark has two swimming areas which open at 9 a.m. The swimming pools are quite large and well-maintained.

5) Take photos. This is by far my favorite thing to do whenever I am at the La Mesa Ecopark. I usually take a leisurely stroll with my camera and take photos of flowers, insects, the lake, etc. However, if you do plan to do a full-blown photo shoot, you may have to pay a certain fee to use the park.

There, my Top 5 interesting things to do at the La Mesa Ecopark. Do visit the park, it will be worth it.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Throwback: A visit to the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle

I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle, Washington way back in 2007 while I was working for a daily newspaper in Manila.

I used to write for the paper's technology section and one of the topics I often wrote about was online gaming which was still at its infancy, back then.

Professional online gaming was just starting to become big in the early 2000s, with players from all over the world forming teams that often compete for prize money. The Republic of Korea took the lead in "cybergaming," and the country was the birthplace of the first "World Cyber Games."

And so I was there in Seattle covering the 7th edition of the World Cyber Games to report on Team Philippines. The tournament was quite uneventful, probably because Team Philippines was unable to advance in the latter stages of the games.

However, I did enjoy spending some free time walking in Seattle. The city has a good mix of old and new, with skyscrapers towering over quaint neighborhoods. I had the chance to visit a few "taverns" and coffee shops. I saw a lot of technology companies alongside traditional businesses which showed Seattle's vibrant economy.

In 2007, costs are fairly reasonable and you don’t have to break the bank to have a good time.

Me and a couple of journalists took a stroll in the waterfront, had lunch atop the Space Needle, then headed out to Pike Place Market and watched fishmongers do their thing. The fishmongers put on a show of tossing fish (usually salmon) before wrapping it up with brown paper for the waiting customer. The spectacle usually draws a fairly large crowd.

Here's a fun fact: it is said that the fish throwing was actually a prank on an employee which eventually turned into a beloved tradition. Customers loved the "act" so much that they actually visit Pike Place Market just to see the fish-throwing.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reasons why people go into freelancing

There was a time when you had to take an official leave from work to be able to travel and relax. With the emergence of the mobile worker and opportunities for freelancing arrangements, it has now become possible to travel and still do some work.

There are many pros and cons when it comes to freelancing. On one hand, you have control of the work hours that you want to render or be selective of the projects you have to take. On the other hand however, freelancing does not guarantee a steady income and does not provide other benefits that a full-time employment may bring.

In my case, I like freelance writing and here are my reasons:

I like to work at home and spend more time with family
A no-brainer. I like to work at home and spend more time with family which is good if you’re a dad to three almost grown-up kids.

I do not like to commute
I don’t like traffic, which unfortunately, is a daily challenge if you live and work in the city. Commuting can be very draining and can zap that creativity even before you set foot in the office.

I don’t like a 9 to 5 routine
I have nothing against people with regular jobs. For many years, I once had a few 9-to-5 jobs too, but nothing beats managing my own time and working at my own pace.

I like to travel
A few months ago, I had blast writing about “travel,” while I was actually on a road trip with family.

I work best when I’m alone
Freelancer writers are often thought of as these nerds curled up in a tiny corner typing away. This is not untrue, and some (including myself), are often very productive while working alone while in their jammies.

I don’t like do the same thing over and over again
As a freelance writer, I sometimes don’t necessarily like what I write. However, I can always anticipate that the next writing gig will be something new.

I like to juggle different projects
The magic phrase for freelancers is “time management.” I like to believe I have it figured out and thus, juggling a few gigs here and there becomes an enjoyable experience.

I like to challenge myself
Freelance writing challenges me to go out of my comfort zone. As a freelance writer, I am compelled to write about things that I have zero knowledge on. I once wrote a product review of a conveyor belt and it took me three cups of coffee before I came up with a fairly decent copy.

So there. My Top 20 reasons why I became a freelance writer. What are yours?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How to have a great time in Baguio's Burnham Park

Visiting Burnham Park

Burnham Park is perhaps the most iconic of all tourist destinations in Baguio City. Rich in history, the park is always part of one's itinerary when visiting the "City of Pines"

A short visit

So we went to Baguio City for a short, one-day vacation and our choice of accommodations was a nice traveler's hotel near Burnham Park. The good thing about the hotel is that it is not too pricey, and is very near 24-hour convenience stores, restaurants, and bars.

Also, it was a stone's throw away from Burnham Park, which was a good thing. We were only staying for a day and a night and it won't be practical if we spend the whole day going to the usual tourist spots.

Things to do in Burnham Park

Stroll.The morning after, we went for a short stroll. The stroll in itself is worthwhile activity. It was quite early, around 6am, but there was a sizable crowd of park visitors including joggers, vendors, etc. milling around Burnham Park.

Jog or walk. We saw a lot of joggers around the park, mostly belonging to the younger set. There was also quite a crowd of people simply walking and enjoying the chilly morning breeze.

Do "Zumba." There were several groups doing "Zumba," which continues to gain popularity as a fun way to exercise. Good thing that Burnham Park has enough space for these groups. Each group has its own beat box and instructor. I did a quick count and saw at least five large groups of Zumba enthusiasts dancing to 80s music beats.

Rent a bike. There were bikers on rented bikes, both grownups and children, zooming in and out around Burnham Park.

Rent a boat. At around 6:30am, operators of boats for rent on Burnham Lake were not yet open, but there was already a crowd of families and groups queuing to rent boats. Burnham Lake is another icon in Baguio City.

Taking photos

The first thing I did was take my camera and take photos of the sunflowers and the garden surrounding Burnham Park. This was a notable experience, as it was my first time to capture honeybees, darting in and around large flowers.

Overall, it was a very good trip. This goes to show that if you're on a tight schedule, one very good option is to just go to Burnham Park and enjoy what the park has to offer.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

This summer, travel to Bolinao and catch a picturesque sunset in Patar beach

A summer destination

Patar beach in Bolinao, Pangasinan is a popular destination for beachgoers especially during summer. Patar beach is actually in Brgy. Patar, which is just one of several baranggays near a coastal area in Bolinao.

How to get to Patar beach

Bolinao is about a 6-hour drive from Manila. You can take the NLEX-SCTEX-TPLEX network and exit to Urdaneta, Pangasinan. From there, it is a matter of looking at Google Maps or using Waze to find your way to Bolinao.

We recently went on a road trip to Patar for a much-needed break. We did not take the Manila to Bolinao route, but instead went to Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija first before going to Bolinao.

The best route going to Bolinao from Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija will take you to a network of roads traversing several towns in Tarlac province, including Tarlac City, Camiling, Gerona and San Clemente, before arriving at Mangatarem, the first town in Pangasinan that you will see.

The trip was about 5 hours. It was a smooth ride all the way because the roads from Tarlac to Pangasinan are all very well maintained. 

Patar beach accommodations

Visitors will notice that there are now numerous inns and small hotels lining up the beachfront or near the beach. This is good, because travelers now have more choices to suit their budgets when it comes to accommodations.

The summer season brings in a lot of visitors to Patar, and as expected, there was quite a crowd when we got there. Fortunately, we already booked our accommodations prior to arriving. The rooms we got were just a few meters away from the beach. 

You will have a lot of choices when it comes to accommodations. If budget is not a concern, it would be better if you stay in a pricier place, say a hotel or an inn with its own compound and access to the beach.

For the budget conscious, there are many rooms for rent near the beach. The only downside is that some rooms are all clustered or concentrated in one area. If you do not mind hearing beachgoers belt some songs in a nearby karaoke machine, then you'll be okay.

Our rooms

The rooms we got were decent, although for the price, one might expect to get a bit more. However, the complimentary nipa hut shed we used to grill our food and eat our lunch in was a nice touch. 

A picturesque sunset

The most interesting part of the trip for me was watching a picturesque sunset at Patar beach with family and friends. The sunset was made even more picturesque by a sandbar on the southern end of Patar which rises when the tide is low. The orange glow of the setting sun and the silhouette of beachgoers walking along the sandbar makes for a great sunset photo.

Monday, May 13, 2019

An amazing way to spend Holy Week in Vigan

Holy Week

Holy Week is an anticipated holiday in the Philippines, a mostly Catholic country. The holidays usually start on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and end on Easter Sunday.

For most Filipinos, the long holidays is a chance to travel and go on vacation. For devout Catholics, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are often spent visiting churches or praying and contemplating in silence. The revelry usually starts on Black Saturday and Easter Sunday, where most go to the beach and celebrate.

Going to Vigan

For our family, Vigan, Ilocos Sur, was the destination of choice. Coming from Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, we took the SCTEX-TPLEX loop, which was still the fastest way to traverse the provinces of Pangasinan and La Union.

By car, the route is pretty direct. Traverse the Sta-Rosa-Tarlac Road until you reach the TPLEX-Tarlac Exit, which will be on your left. Traverse TPLEX and exit at Pozzorubio in Pangasinan. From there, follow the road to La Union province, until you reach Vigan in Ilocos Sur.


However, our decision to leave on a Holy Thursday was a big mistake, with the usual 7-hour travel time stretching all the way to 12 hours because of traffic. The sheer number of motorists all going up north made bottlenecks of the many towns and municipalities along the way. The typical 2-lane roads of these towns were no longer able to support the volume of incoming--and outgoing--traffic. Good thing we already had a place to stay once we arrived in Vigan.

Going to Calle Crisologo

Vigan, too, was pretty crowded. But despite the crowd, we had an amazing time visiting a few interesting places, like the St. Augustine Church in Bantay, and the Bantay Bell Tower. We took the customary walk at Calle Crisologo, and visited St. Paul Cathedral.

One highlight of our visit to Calle Crisologo was witnessing the "Semana Santa" parade of numerous religious images depicting the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Despite our little misadventure on the road, visiting Vigan was an enjoyable, as far as spending time with loved ones is concerned.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Taking macro photos in a garden in Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija

My parents live in Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, in a quaint bungalow surrounded by rice paddy fields.

To reach the house, one needs to take a 2-kilometer dirt road. The house is also 
about 7 kilometers away from the town center and it is understandable that some may consider it "remote."

I love going home to Sta. Rosa not just to spend time with my parents but also to take pictures, particularly macro (or close up) photos using an entry level camera and a few extension tubes.

One of my favorite spots to take macro photos is at a nearby garden where Mama Evie's orchids and other flowering plants are found.

Macro photography is not easy. It is not the lack of subjects, but more the challenge of controlling my shaky hands. I learned the hard way that in macro photography, the smallest of movements can distort and reduce the sharpness of the photos.

So far, this method of photography has been the most rewarding for me. With my modest gear, I had to crouch, sneak up and concentrate a lot to focus on the subject or subjects. 

The crouching is particularly uncomfortable and not good for the knees, but the satisfaction comes after I am able to take a photo that I like after trying to get it several times. 

Travel to Angeles City and try the ultralight

If you have a fear of flying, and you want to overcome this fear, then flying in an ultralight might be the cure. What you can do is trav...